I am really quite tired of reading the “20 seconds to a Happier You” articles. Mostly, emotions are far more complicated and deeper rooted than telling yourself it’s “not such a big deal.” Frankly, life is full of pain and suffering, and many times one needs to stay with the pain and suffering until lifes true gifts unfold.
This year, I have had two family members die and a best friend diagnosed with stage four cancer; she is 33 years old. I could get busy and distract myself and remind myself of all my blessings, but the truth is that life isn’t all pleasure and contentment. There is nothing wrong with you if you aren’t constantly grateful and happy. It’s been in staying with pain, sadness, deadness, and anger that I have come to a deeper place. However, it wasn’t just through the giant shifts of awareness that I am different, but the small things that mattered too.
The small things seemed to matter more and more this year. I would plummet into despair around my own errors and fret over keeping my house clean. I would get enraged when my partner wouldn’t just put the glass 10 inches lower into the open dishwasher. “WHY?!? $#@&!!!” I would complain silently, grinding my teeth into a pulp.
Rather than turning away from that glass or picking it up and throwing it at my spouse, I stayed with the rage and let the heat build while I breathed. I watched my thoughts and feelings that said, “I am alone in taking care of everything.” “I am being taken advantage of.” “I will forever struggle in my need for order and perfection.” After feeling my own fears rattle in my head and twist my stomach in knots, I noticed a deeper experience that my anger was connected to. After the layer of anger burned away, the reality was that I felt overwhelmed by the fragility of life and the sadness that to make space for healing, I may need to fail and disappoint others; moreover, I recognized the pain of reaching out for support when I didn’t know what I really needed. All these little things actually pointed to deeper desires and needs.
When you are faced with the small things, rather than ignoring them, ask yourself these questions. (Make sure you aren’t judging or analyzing your answers. Just notice what floats up as you pay attention. This may take 10 minutes or days!)
- What emotions do I feel in regard to what happened? How do I feel this in my body? (If you can feel it in your body, you are more likely to get the more subtle meaning.) Do you feel you are clenching your teeth to hold back words?
- What images come to mind around this? Do I have images of being locked in a room away from a party? Do I feel separate and believe joy and connection are out of my reach?
- What do I wish, want, need, or desire? Do I wish for money so I can finally be attractive and likeable? Do I need to cut back on obligations so I can take a breath?
- What would it mean for me, and my place in the world, if things were different? If I didn’t have this depression would it mean that I could finally do well at work and be seen as competent?
- What does it mean to me about my place in the world or my reality? Do I feel like the world will hold back love and punish me until I get everything right?
- What does it mean “about me” that this is happening? Is everyone just staring at my flaws?
Many times we resist going deeper because it’s confusing and complicated. There may be many reasons why small things bother us. Perhaps we fear facing our internalized bigotry or the painful effects of Mom or Dad’s misguided parenting. Mostly, we avoid the suppressed pain, fear, worthlessness, insecurity, and ineptitude we have battled all our lives. Moreover, HOW we look at the small things tells us a great deal of how we have been taught to deal with our hurts! Were you taught to dismiss, minimize, or shut up and fix your problems?!
Usually, the small moments, broken down, reveal the deep human need for power, love, value, access (to resources material or interpersonal), security, connection, appreciation, understanding, autonomy, safety, self-care, and self-actualization. Often, connecting to these needs is deeply relieving and hopeful, because the healing and growth can begin with whatever or whoever can best help us.
Our “small” things are about having a world that embraces us and where we can be nurtured and shine. It is in the small things in our life where we feel cared for and safe. If you want to think about it in terms of the universe being the great parent, it is the simple acts that keeps us feeling good. After all, it isn’t the extravagant stroller that makes a baby happy, but being fed, held, cooed at, and kept warm that matters. It isn’t immature to get angry or sad at the small things that happen in our world. Though we can’t make the parent-universe responsible for these pains, we can realize what meaning is held in the small things.
When I push away the small things I am usually denying bigger truths and challenges that I will ultimately need to face.
It’s not that life is cruel, but being human with needs and wants is hard! The more we grow and act in the world, the more we expose ourselves to being hurt, rejected, and ignored. However, it also gives us the opportunity to feel deeply and do great things. It is in the carefully placed small steps that we are led through the wilderness, not the huge leaps!